Southern Gothic

The girl at the register was young. Late teens probably. I was buying a collection of short stories by Flannery O’Connor. On the cover was a peacock with its colorful tail feathers wrapping around the page. The cashier looked at it and said, “What a beautiful cover.”

If I were to hazard a guess, I imagine she is unfamiliar with Flannery O’Connor. When she saw that cover and was moved by its beauty, I doubt she had any clue about the darkness that its pages contained. She likely doesn’t know about The Misfit’s rampage or that The Violent Bear It Away.

Anyone that has known me for any length of time knows that I have always had a great affinity for the darker side of things; I’m not one for gore or vulgarity, but there is something about looking at the darkness of the world in its face that grabs me. I cannot resist a good murder ballad and abhor a story where all the loose ends get tied up in a pretty little bow.

It’s one of the many things I love about the South. We have an entire genre dedicated to confronting the darkness in our region. It seems natural, I suppose, that we southerners lean into the darker things. We live in a region that seems to be doing its best to kill us all at every turn. The oppressive heat, the venomous snakes, and the choking kudzu seem to be writing their own murder story and they long for each of us to be their victims.

As O’Connor once said, many things from the South will be considered grotesque, but like the peacocks feathers, I think there’s a beauty in the grotesque; there’s something captivating about the truth of it all. We don’t hide our freaks or deny their existence like Boo Radley shut in to his home, we talk about them in the open so that they can be dealt with and not ignored.

I cracked open the book and had to admit, it was a beautiful cover, but the stories within those covers, harsh as they were, made the peacock look like an old yard chicken.

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